Forum Index » General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion » Alcohol Stoves a fire hazard?


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Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
any stove has POTENTIAL fire risks on 02/12/2012 16:56:54 MST Print View

I have tossed a flaming ball of stove out of my tent when my old primus stove overpressured and gas was flowing down the outside of the stove. That was in the 1970s.

I lent my MSR Dragonfly stove to my son and his scout buddies, and when they pumped it up gas shot everywhere, and his hand was a fireball and the pump of the stove melted.

I had a student have trouble installing a Bluet gas cartridge on his Bluet burner, and it went up in a fireball that burned my eyebrows and singed my fleece jacket.

I have seen plenty of canister stoves kicked over accidentally.

I woke one night in a windstorm, and a 40 foot tongue of flame was flowing past my tent about 10' away. The wind was blowing a zillion sparks out of the "dead" fire pit where a camp fire had been lit. Luckily the sparks didn't get a flame going and we got the coals flooded with water.

I have never kicked over my Caldera stove, but its always a potential hazard. I would say esbit tablets would have less risk of having an accident, but that is one form of fuel I have never used. One has to be careful with all types of stoves and fires.

a b
(Ice-axe)
Alky stoves on 02/12/2012 17:22:51 MST Print View

@ Stephen, The Trangia has a little bit of white residue around the burner holes that could be salt. The Caldera 12-10 shows no sign of any salt corrosion at all.
@ Bob, True words! I agree that any stove has the potential to injure or start a forest fire.
There is a difference between having fuel contained in a sealed canister and having a jet of flame controlled by a needle and having 2 ounces of fuel wide open and on fire.
Hey i am an alcohol stove user too. I have two of them.
The fact remains that i could punt my MSR XGK canister while lit and it might shoot a jet of flame into the brush and start a point source fire.
If i kick my Caldera or Trangia i have 2 ounces of burning alcohol spreading invisible flames over a wide area.
Actually i have an experiment for folks to try.
Go out into the middle of a concrete driveway and light 2 ounces of salted alcohol in a cup on fire.
Now tip the cup over with a stick.. but stand back!
The spilled alcohol explodes into flame as it all trys to burn simulteneously.
The combination of heated alcohol that already wants to vaporize with the sudden liberation from the container allows all of it to oxidize immediately.
It is hard to describe the intense blast of heat that accompanies a burning alcohol spill.
You have to experience this first hand and i am not so sure folks new to alcohol stoves have.
I know i was totally un-aware of the potential until I spilled my own alky stove.
People have malfunctions with modern canister stoves too but the fuel canister actually exploding is unheard of.

Diana Nevins
(artemis) - MLife

Locale: Great Plains
Stoves as Bombs on 02/13/2012 08:51:07 MST Print View

I've heard a few third-hand stories about fuel canisters exploding, but those cases all seemed to involve serious misuse (like putting the stove inside a tall, tight windscreen which caused the canister to severely overheat). Back to that education thing again...

I think I'm going to follow your advice, and deliberately set my alcohol stove up in my driveway and tip it over just to see firsthand what happens. No doubt the results will drive home in a visceral way that I MUST be careful with my stove when I'm actually using it on the trail!

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
a saving grace of alcohol stoves on 02/13/2012 09:25:10 MST Print View

Yes, an uncontained liquid will always have potential to be a fire hazard. A saving grace for a Caldera stove is its darn hard to kick over. It has a little lip around the bottom which is handy for preheating the stove in cold weather, and it is a great stabilizer also. Plus its inside a protective windscreen, so its about as save as liquid alcohol could be. I doubt that one could tip it over with a kick on a driveway. Its just going to scoot along, but if its super full it might slosh a little alcohol out.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
salt in stove on 02/13/2012 17:45:28 MST Print View

The only thing putting salt in your alcohol is going to do is make the flame visible. That might help keep you from burning your hand but it won't prevent the stove from blowing over in the wind, being knocked over by accident or catching fire to the stuff it's sitting on.

The best thing to do is to always have some food in your pack you can eat instead of a hot dinner just in case conditions are bad for cooking. Even just switch places between dinner and lunch or dinner and breakfast.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Stoves as Bombs on 02/13/2012 18:18:02 MST Print View

I have never had an accident with any kind of stove. But then I am one to follow directions and maintain them.

I noticed the "problem" with alcohol being invisible years ago when I read about using it to prime a Svea 123. No problems, but I noticed some had overflowed the priming pan a little (it was at night) and saw it catch on the area just outside the priming bowl. I had noticed I could not see the flame in daylight. So after a couple of times, I went back to priming with white gas. I have never knocked over any of my stoves.

My first alcohol stove was a Caledera Cone, which is pretty darn hard to knock over.

A lot this is inexperienced users. And that is where the Internet entices people to hop on the PCT, when they have little experience.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Re: Stoves as Bombs on 02/13/2012 19:13:42 MST Print View

I once made the stupid mistake of using an aluminum windscreen with a canister stove. I didn't know enough to realize how dangerous it was. When I started unscrewing the stove, gas spewed out of the canister. It turns out I had melted the self-sealing valve, and I didn't know anything to do but to sit there and watch from a distance as the canister emptied itself. We were very lucky something worse didn't happen. In a dry environment, it could have been nasty.

As it was, I learned a very important lesson. If you factor in inexperience and ignorance I can't see how an alcohol stove could be significantly more dangerous than any other kind, especially if you're using a Caldera Cone where stability is a major part of the design purpose.

F. R.
(fugitiveride) - F

Locale: Syldavia
alcohol stoves on 07/18/2014 23:47:57 MDT Print View

Many of the National Forests on the PCT only allow portable stoves using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel with a valid campfire permit.

It seems to me that an alcohol stove doesn't fit into any of the permissible categories since the liquid fuel is not pressurized.

Edited by fugitiveride on 07/18/2014 23:48:34 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: alcohol stoves on 07/18/2014 23:55:53 MDT Print View

F.R., I don't think that you've been following this discussion in parallel threads. We discussed what the national forest restrictions really mean and what is really allowed.

--B.G.--

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 08:13:32 MDT Print View

Apparently Yosemite has clarified how they feel about alcohol stoves:

"As of July 15, 2014, fires in the wilderness are prohibited below 6,000 feet, except for fires in portable stoves using pressurized gas, liquid fuel, propane, or alcohol. Twig stoves are not allowed below 6,000 feet. This restriction is due to hire [sic] fire danger."


This is now exactly how SEKI words their restrictions as well, which are nice and clear.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 09:03:26 MDT Print View

Progress! Are the word's "jellied petroleum" now gone?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 12:25:32 MDT Print View

Hmmm. They did not mention Esbit fuel.

I'm crushed.

--B.G.--

Valerie E
(Wildtowner) - M

Locale: Grand Canyon State
RE: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 13:14:11 MDT Print View

Hmmmm, this seems a lot more "open" now: no on/off switch! Definitely an improvement in clarity.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 13:58:49 MDT Print View

Ah-ha. I see that Yosemite doesn't state "Esbit" but they do refer to "cube" as a fuel.

OK, they are slowly moving toward clarification.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think we see Yosemite, SEKI, and Inyo N.F.

Sierra N.F. seems to be the odd man out.

Hmmm. They don't talk about UNpressurized alcohol.

--B.G.--

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 14:23:48 MDT Print View

Perhaps the rule "don't burn wood" is enough. What else (if we count "cubes" too) is actually prohibited?

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 14:27:54 MDT Print View

And yet Sierra NF was the one with the clearest email to me when I specifically mentioned my starlyte and the caldera cone "that's exactly what we want"

Maybe they'll get their act together on the wording as well???

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 14:36:14 MDT Print View

"What else (if we count "cubes" too) is actually prohibited?"

They did not mention white phosphorus, although that might come under the category of fireworks.

I carry some magnesium ribbon, and it makes a good hot fire starter. I don't see it prohibited.

--B.G.--

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 14:38:40 MDT Print View

"Maybe they'll get their act together on the wording as well???"

They probably have too many lawyers for that.

I know. We could boil water with electrical heaters. The electricity could come from a (water-driven) Pelton Wheel.

--B.G.--

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: Re: Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 14:55:07 MDT Print View

How about "Don't burn wood, but if you are an idiot don't burn anything unless there is a non-idiot present to supervise or take over."

This might work since a non-idiot would probably say, "stop you idiot! Stop trying to burn Magnesium to make coffee!" I think this rule would cover "contingencies".

But then we might have to implement a "non-idiot" certification process.

Edited by millonas on 07/19/2014 14:55:55 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yosemite changed the wording now on 07/19/2014 15:12:18 MDT Print View

"But then we might have to implement a "non-idiot" certification process."

In some jurisdictions, they already have that. It's called a Campfire Permit.

However, I have a whole stack of old used Wilderness Permits, and there was never any mention of a Campfire Permit.

--B.G.--